Coin Specifications

Category: Classic Head $5 (1834-1838)
Mint: Philadelphia
Mintage: 286,588
Obverse Designer: William Kneass
Reverse Designer: William Kneass
Composition: Gold
Fineness: 0.9000
Weight: 8.3600g
AGW: 0.2416oz
Melt Value: $366.88 (9/23/2019)
Diameter: 22.5mm
Edge: Reeded
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1838 $5 MS obverse 1838 $5 MS reverse
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Description & Analysis

Mint records indicate that the Philadelphia Mint coined 286,588 half eagles during the year from two die combinations, each with different obverse and reverse dies. Although it cannot be stated with certitude how many of each variety the Mint produced, a likely division is about 175,000 examples of the more common Large Arrows, Small 5 variety and the balance the Small Arrows, Large 5. The present example is the Small Arrows, Large 5 variant, which is considerably rarer than the other variety. In their 2006 Gold Encyclopedia Garrett and Guth comment, 'The typical 1838 half eagle falls into the Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated range, with the largest population bunched at the AU-58 level. In Mint State, the population drops off dramatically and virtually stops at MS-64.?

The Classic Head design dates to August 1834, when the gold content of the quarter eagle and half eagle was reduced. Before that time, our national gold coinage had a melt or gold value that was greater than the face value, so those coins already in circulation were quickly removed and hoarded, or melted, and those who owned gold bullion refused to have it struck into coins. As a result, gold coins from the years before 1834 have become major rarities today. The Classic Head coinage, first struck in August 1834, was an instant success, due simply to the slight weight reduction, from 8.75 grams to 8.31 grams. This change represented a 5% weight reduction and a similar reduction in value from a little over five dollars per coin to a little under five dollars per coin. The Mint Act of June 28, 1834, was the authorizing legislation to reduce the weight of the coins, and was written to take force on August 1. To further enable the populace to readily distinguish the new lower-weight coinage, Mint personnel removed the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM and its scroll from the reverse. The language of the coinage act included a weight reduction for the ten dollar gold eagle, even though such a coin had not been struck for circulation in 30 years. It nonetheless remained a legally authorized denomination, and accordingly had to be included in the new law. The first new ten dollar gold pieces of the lower weight standard would not roll from the mint presses until some four years later, in 1838.

Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.


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Price Guide

Last Updated: 6/7/2019

Click on a price to see historical prices, comparison charts and trends.

1838 $5 MS
Base $ 550 575 600 810 1220 1620 1750 2050 3350 4700 5250 7300 13300 29500 115000 300000 - - - -
$ - - - - 3800 - - - 14500 - 214000 - - -

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Total Graded: 730
Low Grade: PrAg
Average Grade: 53
High Grade: 64

The chart showing PrAg series, G series, VG series, F series, VF series, 40 series, 45 series, 50 series, 53 series, 55 series, 58 series, 60 series, 61 series, 62 series, 63 series, 64 series.
NGC CENSUS DETAIL Last Updated: 9/17/2019 1838 $5 MS
 0 %0 %0 %1 %5 %6 %15 %8 %12 %19 %20 %1 %5 %4 %2 %1 %------ 

Auction Prices Realized

A random selection of coins is shown below.

Auction House
Sale / Lot
12/17/2003 PCGS VF 30   Teletrade Auction 1820, 1820/Lot# 1960 $374.00
10/23/2008 PCGS MS 62   Heritage Auctions 2008 October Dallas, TX Signature US Coin Auction #1117, 1117/Lot# 2071 $7,475.00
6/17/2010 NGC MS 61   Stack's Bowers The June 2010 Baltimore Auction, 41/Lot# 3627 $4,715.00
8/19/2010 NGC AU 55   David Lawrence Rare Coins Thursday - Internet Auction # 507, 514/Lot# 7712 $2,070.00
1/29/2012 PCGS XF 40   Goldberg January 29 - February 1, 2012 The Pre-Long Beach Auction, 67/Lot# 1478 $805.00
5/27/2012 NGC MS 61   Bonhams Coins and Medals, 19995/Lot# 1269 $4,387.00
4/21/2013 PCGS Genuine AU   GreatCollections GreatCollections Coin Auctions 04/21/2013, 71/Lot# 111511 $642.40
4/22/2015 NGC Details AU Details  Heritage Auctions 2015 April 22 - 26 CSNS US Coins Signature Auction - Chicago Session(7), 1219/Lot# 8448 $705.00
8/12/2015 NGC Details AU Details  Heritage Auctions 2015 August 12 - 16 ANA US Coins Signature Auction - Chicago Session(6), 1223/Lot# 8246 $665.05
3/12/2017 PCGS Genuine XF   Heritage Auctions Internet Coin Auction Session(2), 131712/Lot# 26437 $517.00

NGC Registry

NGC Registry Score 1838 $5 MS Prooflike
1838 $5 MS
Registry Image Gallery
Grade: MS 63
Points: 4472
Owner: scotty's gold
Grade: AU 58
Points: 2738
Owner: BillJones
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